The conservation of an exceptional Regency shopping street – Part VII

  1. STRATEGY FOR THE REPAIR, CONSERVATION AND FUTURE ENHANCEMENT OF WOBURN WALK

Tempting as it is to produce a purely academic study of the physical condition of Woburn Walk and a recommendation for repair, and not to get my hands dirty with considerations of its implementation, it would undermine one of the key statements of this work that the hands-on involvement of stakeholders such as owners and users is inextricably linked with the continued significance of the street.

The findings in the Significance and Conservation Table have brought forward five broad issues that threaten the fabric of Woburn Walk, as set out in the previous chapter. The following policy recommendations are offered in answer to these threats, and present both short-term, action-based solutions for repair, and longer-term strategic actions for improved stewardship.  A further Policy 6 highlights a number of ideal improvements to the terraces that may require grant-aided or other financial support.

  1. POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS 1-5

 

POLICY 1:  Repair of serious and ongoing structural decay to roofs, walls and vaults

 

It is imperative that ongoing structural problems are halted and dealt with. Ensuring the stability of the superstructure and the condition of the roof is essential to keeping the buildings in sound condition.

SHORT-TERM ACTIONS:                 

A full structural survey of the street should be undertaken. Ideally, all owners would use one structural engineer with expertise in historic buildings.

 

  1. The owner of 1-7 should commission a structural survey to establish the cause of structural movement at No. 1 as a matter of urgency, including reasons for:
  2. Front wall to bow out
  3. Large cracks and loss of stucco render between and around window frames
  4. Side elevation bowing inwards
  5. Damp in cellars

  1. As part of the above, the survey should cover Nos. 3, 5 and 7 to ensure they are watertight, structurally sound, and not suffering from wood rot. A specification of remedial works for any problems uncovered should be prepared and be advised by English Heritage.

  1. Camden Council should commission a structural survey of 4-18 to ensure they are watertight, structurally sound, and not suffering from wood rot. A specification of remedial works for any problems uncovered should be prepared and be advised by English Heritage.

  1. Any urgent remedial works identified in the surveyor’s report should be addressed.

LONGER-TERM ACTIONS FOR FUTURE STEWARDSHIP:

As per Policy 2 below.

POLICY 2:       Meeting current preservation needs and identifying ongoing maintenance requirements of the terraces

 

It is essential that both short-term repairs are carried out and a longer-term plan of maintenance is established in order to combat the current lack of repair and arrest further decay. A complete internal and external survey of the buildings is necessary to record significance and update listing records.

 

SHORT-TERM ACTIONS:

  1. A significance report should be commissioned to assess what original material is contained in the buildings to update the listing records with individual entries for each building. No. 4 is likely to contain the greatest amount of original material and have the best preserved interior as it has suffered the least intervention.

  1. Following on from the above, a condition report should state what specific repairs are required to each building and a specification should be drawn up of issues that require professional repair. From the extent of my survey these currently include:
  2. Rotten and decaying timber in shop fronts
  3. Continued dry rot inside the roofs
  4. Decay of timber windows, doors and frames and their decoration.
  5. Decay of timber porch over balcony of no 4
  6. Decay of stucco, mouldings and parapet scrolls and their decoration
  7. Decay of parapet brickwork, lead detailing and roofing materials
  8. Problems with rainwater goods and service plumbing
  9. Broken window panes

LONGER-TERM ACTIONS FOR FUTURE STEWARDSHIP:

  1. With administrative support from English Heritage, the council should form a regular maintenance programme for the buildings’ owners and residents, including simple dos and don’ts specific to the street and basic maintenance tips.

  1. A neutral third party such as a conservation architect should be engaged to manage the stewardship of the street, and produce a full Conservation Management Plan in consultation with all stakeholders. The architect would undertake a condition survey of the buildings (including a structural engineer’s survey as per Policy 1 where deemed necessary) in order to prepare a quinquennial (5-yearly) report on the condition of the buildings inside and out.

I have adapted the standard ecclesiastical quinquennial condition report structure for the specific needs of Woburn Walk, a historic street with buildings in multi-ownership. This will help users understand what works are urgent and what should be tackled when resource is available.

  1. Immediate works required in order to arrest current danger to the building or its occupants or the public
  2. Urgent works which if left could have serious impact on the stability of the structure and present a danger to its occupants or the public
  3. Planned regular maintenance (small, inexpensive ongoing maintenance – ‘repair’)
  4. A major future project (large scale, expensive work – ‘restoration’ requiring planning, specification and funding)
  5. Desirable improvement to enhance the condition and appearance of the buildings
  6. List of items for inclusion or alteration in the listing record

In simple analysis, points 1 and 2 are the result of a lack of 3, necessitating 4, which is ideally to be avoided!  Point 5 will deal with the cumulative effect of small alterations that have gone unnoticed and contributed together to a degradation of the street as a whole. Point 6 can be prepared in full once and updated as necessary. This system would require a full survey of the buildings that goes beyond what this work can achieve.

  1. The conservation architect should also produce a specification for repairs for competitive tendering. A formal repairs specification would include timetables, materials, method specifications and predicted costs. Consultation should encourage those responsible for repair to become involved with the work and Repairs Notices[1] should only be served as a last resort.

The improved organisation and accountability of the specification and tendering process by a neutral third party such as a conservation architect should offer all leaseholders and tenants of the south terrace a regular, efficient and affordable maintenance and repair programme.

  1. Despite its individual status according to the terms of the lease, of which I am not party to, No 4 Woburn Walk should ideally be included in the council’s subsidised repair programmes for the south terrace. This is a matter of pure common sense and will prevent a much less attractive outcome of a Repair Notice being served should the building suffer structural compromise. This will not enhance relations and will also not prevent future decay. Discussion of the possible options with the tenant would be highly advantageous.

POLICY 3:       Reversal of the incremental impact upon the streetscape and improved future controls

 

Alterations and additions to the streetscape should be reviewed and action taken to improve the general amenity and appearance of the street. Council departments that deal with relevant issues such as roads, signage, access, trees etc., together with shopkeepers, should have reference to a streetscape policy document.

SHORT-TERM ACTIONS:

  1. Council to reverse alterations to the streetscape, including:
  2. Remove two flowering cherry trees in the centre of the street and replace the two Acers at either end of the street with smaller tress such as the flowering cherry
  3. Relocate litterbins in less prominent locations
  4. Replace bright yellow gas mains points in centre of street

  1. Council to work with residents to:
  2. Remove (or request the removal of) aged flower planters along street. The lampposts were once used for hanging basket displays, possibly sponsored by the council. This would be a more attractive floral display than large pots scattered along the street
  3. Provide regulations for “A” boards and other shop signs and goods hung or stood out during open hours along street
  4. Agree style guidelines for cafe tables and chairs aesthetically suited to street and discuss removal of table umbrellas
  5. Request removal / replacement of barbed wire over neighbouring wall attached to no 4 for a less obtrusive deterrent.

LONGER-TERM ACTIONS FOR FUTURE STEWARDSHIP:

  1. The council should prepare an individual streetscape policy for Woburn Walk to inform any future proposals. Appendix III gives details of what attributes might be considered and recommendations for the preservation of their amenity.

  1. Maintaining quality and restricting quantity can minimise negative impact on the street of shop signage without adversely affecting the interests of the shop keepers. This particular area of concern is covered in PPG19 on outdoor advertising control section 4.35-4.36 and recommends that authorities liaise with traders to explain policies and seek their co-operation.[2]

  1. Whatever re-development of this dense site is proposed, retaining and / or improving the relationship of buildings adjacent to the street should be encouraged.

POLICY 4:       Reversal of the incremental damage to uniformity of elevations

 

Alterations have, at some stage, been undertaken in contravention of Section 7 of the Planning Act 1990 concerning unauthorised works to listed buildings. The uniformity of the elevations is of key architectural significance to the street and should be preserved, and re-instated where poor repair and unauthorised alterations have taken place.

SHORT-TERM ACTIONS:

  1. As part of the consultation process in preparing a Conservation Management Plan, the council should inform owners of the rectification works their building will require. Those responsible should be urged to undertake works either on their own, or to commit to works at a later date as a group represented by a neutral third-party as outlined above and below. Rectifications noted within the restrictions of this survey include:
  2. Replacement of UPVC dormer window at no. 1 with appropriate timber casement
  3. Removal of swinging signs at 1-7 and repair to stucco render
  4. Removal of estate agent boards at no. 5 Woburn Walk and Duke’s Road
  5. Replace or re-cover intruder alarm boxes for styles appropriate to historic buildings, or re-locate to less prominent location, e.g. affixed horizontally in door reveal as per no. 6.
  6. Removal of ventilation fans to windows of front elevations
  7. Removal of pigeon netting affixed to westerly side elevation of no. 1 and replacement with less obtrusive bird deterrent
  8. Replacement of downpipes fed over the cornice and facia boards down to ground level 0f 1-7 with downpipes recessed into the building as per the original plan and the current south terrace. Repair front step of no. 7 where rainwater pipe was once fed into the adjacent light well
  9. Re-site tv aerial of no. 10 back from the front of the roof
  10. Replace canted bay window at no. 9 for bowed glazing bars and glazing
  11. Removal of mastic asphalt from York stone shopping plinths on north terrace and Duke’s Road (York stone pavers without grilles may be used in front of the two cafes spanning 1-5 to enable continued use of small cafe tables)

LONGER-TERM ACTIONS FOR FUTURE STEWARDSHIP:

  1. Efforts should be made to undertake consultation to form an agreement with all parties to undertake these works as part of a wider programme of organised, sustained and subsidised conservation involving the council and English Heritage. The role of Enforcement Notices[3] should be explained, although every effort should be taken to engage stakeholders in positive action.

  1. Preparation of a set of clear guidelines on forbidden works to the elevations of the buildings to form part of an accessible Conservation Management Plan. This is crucial to arresting deterioration, and to prevent further damage as a result of perceived precedent. Its listing status ultimately protects Woburn Walk from this particular defence of alterations in conservation areas, but avoiding the alteration in the first place by issuing clear direction is the preferable route for planned conservation.

POLICY 5:       Controlling change of use and modernisation

 

Change of use has made the greatest impact upon the fabric of the building. The use of the majority of the north terrace for hotel purposes and subsequently office space has been of substantial detriment to the plan form of the buildings and their original character.

 

SHORT-TERM ACTIONS:

  1. With regard to use of the shops as cafes and restaurants, the siting of extraction fans, ovens etc should be clearly advised in the Conservation Management Plan. When new equipment is proposed, cafes and restaurants should be required to propose ventilation equipment and ducting routes that cause the lease impact to the building’s exterior.

LONGER-TERM ACTIONS FOR FUTURE STEWARDSHIP:

  1. If the upper floors of 1-7 should fall below current Health & Safety requirements for use as office space, should the freeholder be required to present a plan for works incorporating plans to re-instate plan forms or architectural details of the original upper floors?  Conversion of 1-7 back to residential use would be the ideal scenario, although they now no longer have back yards. This might well be supported by a grant from English Heritage and might be considered as a viable route for the freeholder if it should prove harder to lease the space for commercial purposes in the future. It should however be noted that much of the space is currently leased to charities and educational bodies. These long-term, not-for-profit organisations may be considered as suitable leaseholders for the building as it stands. However, should the building be sold, the recent tightening of requirements for listed buildings to comply with Part L of the Building Regulations (regarding safety, soundproofing etc), unless the work would adversely affect the character of the building, may still cause further disruption to the original fabric of the terrace. There is no relaxation of fire safety measures for commercial premises. However, given the current lack of original fabric these issues may not present a great threat to the fabric of the building.

  1. Resistance to further change of use is essential in preserving the plan form and character of the buildings as long as they can sensibly be used for their original purpose. The alterations required to meet Part L of current Building Regulations for commercial spaces would severely impact upon the these small buildings which have a limited capacity for commercial use.

  1. The electricity substation in the basement of no. 7 is a very poor fit with original intentions for its use. Its removal would be an undoubted asset, together with the (arguably necessary) “danger of death” sign on the residential front door.

POLICY 6:       Other long-term improvements to Woburn Walk

The Significance and Conservation Table has identified a number of alterations, mainly historic, whose rectification would improve the overall aesthetic value of Woburn Walk. Many of these issues involve the re-creation of original features lost many years before, and where the age of the alteration or loss of fabric would not constitute a repair under Policy 4 above. Whilst this will not increase the extent of original fabric, it does concur with the conservation philosophy employed (or at least inferred) to date of maintaining the aesthetic uniformity of the street with replacement.

  1. Removal of sash horns from of sash windows
  2. Replacement of shoe scrapers throughout the street as found either side of no 4 and replacement of modern stainless steel threshold saddles with brass ones.
  3. Replacement of bay windows to all or any of the altered shop fronts and other low quality timber repairs to the shop fronts including replacement bay brackets and doorframes
  4. Repair of the balcony over no. 10 together with the replacement of the flat window for the bay
  5. A survey on the current energy efficiency of the buildings and report on how to better insulate properties and provide greater fuel efficiency for any future improvements to the residencies could benefit their long-term usability. Any recommendations would have to take into consideration the special nature of the buildings and be reversible without causing further damage to the structures
  6. Should Woburn Walk be Grade I listed? Woburn Walk is currently a GII* listed asset administered by English Heritage. It is part of the Bloomsbury Conservation Area under the administration of Camden Borough Council. GI is defined as being of “exceptional interest” over and above the GII* definition of ‘outstanding interest’ and is judged upon a number of relevant architectural and historical considerations. If originality is akin to interest, the unique arcade style architectural composition of the street may qualify for consideration as Grade I. However it may not claim the level of interest afforded to more obvious exceptional constructions. Its status of GI or GII* should not affect the level of protection it receives, but may impact upon its case for grant aid and other financial support in the future.

[1] Under section 48 of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990

[2] In April 1983, the chairman of the Woburn Walk & Burton Street Association, Joe Victor, wrote to the Director of Planning and Communications to complain about the extent and quality of signage appearing on the buildings and pavements of Woburn Walk. He pointed out that the council had previously stated that it had powers to control this activity but according to Mr Victor did not appear to be exercising this power. What happened as a result of this communication is not known, although it can be surmised that any action taken was soon overtaken by new initiatives by the traders.

[3] Under section 38 of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990